Saturday, April 10, 2004

Pharoah Sanders - With a Heartbeat (Evolver, 2003)

Pharoah Sanders is no stranger to spiritual meditative music, having
started his career with the free-form cosmic explorations of John and
Alice Coltrane and then through a series of ecstatic jazz releases of
his own on the Impulse label in the late 60's and early 70's. His
releases since them have been a strange mix of mainstream, free jazz and
even the odd trip into smooth jazz and disco. This disc finds Sanders
with producer-mixmaster Bill Laswell who attempts to update Pharoah's
60's spiritual music for the modern computer age.

All of the tunes on this disc are tied together by the sound of a
beating heart. The first tune sets a trippy vibe with some nice soloing
by Sanders on tenor over Laswell's shimmering synth beats. On this tune
they meet as equals, with neither the synths or Sanders potentially
explosive saxophone gaining the upper hand. This is continued on the
second track, "Morning Tala," where Sanders is blowing freely over a nix
of tabla, synths and sampled beats.

"Alankara" sets a somewhat different tone entirely. Tablas and scatted
vocalese coming of as some type of proto-rap are used throughout the
song and Pharoah lays out entirely. It's hard to tell whether the
vocalese was sampled or was done in time with the tablas. It's a strange
track, and then the disc ends with "Gamaka" which opens with Indian
sounding instruments over the ever-present heartbeat and synth. Graham
Haynes enters on heavily processed trumpet and the beat picks up to a
nearly techno-dance beat. With Pharoah playing in the background, the
beats really take center stage.

Overall this is a strange record, which finds Pharoah Sanders, normally
one of strongest soloists in jazz reduced to the position of being a
sideman on his own record. Laswell's synths and beats really command
attention and the third track without Sanders entirely allows the music
to drift from focus. It's a noble attempt to combine spiritual free jazz
and fusion, but what really needs to happen if the musicians experiment
in this format again is for everybody to be on a level playing field and
allowed to contribute to the overall sound.

Rating: 6.5

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